Tag Archives: Directors Lab West

Ask a Literary Manager 3

I know Kappy Kilburn through the freelance directing crowd, but also love collaborating as part of the Steering Committee for the Directors Lab West. She offers interesting insight as a Literary Manager who is not a writer first. Great new perspective! Italicization mine.

CMJ: Where and when were you a Literary Manager? Can you please give an idea of the sorts of plays that immediately grab your attention, and how a submission package can accomplish that without bending the guidelines?  

KK: I was the Associate Director of Artistic Development at the Pasadena Playhouse 2004-2008.  I produced the new play development program Hothouse at the Playhouse and by default was the Literary Manager.  What grabs my attention in a good way is a proper submission that follows the submission guidelines.  I will prioritize a submission if there is something honest yet intriguing in the cover letter and brief synopsis.  If in those two, you hint that this is a play my particular theater may actually produce, I will get to it faster.  And by that, I mean you are not wasting my time with material that we would never thematically or structurally consider.  (IE: theatre A doesn’t do musicals – don’t submit a musical; theatre b only does gay themed work – keep that in mind; theatre c wont do graphic material – don’t submit something that pushes that envelope.)

CMJ: What are some immediate turn-offs in submissions?

KK: I am legendary for throwing away a submission unread if you can’t take a minute to find out whether I am a man or female.  If the submission comes to Mr. Kappy Kilburn, I won’t read it.  Don’t assume anything when you submit material.  And it is usually a good idea to double check who material should go to – is that person on the submission list you bought still on staff, have the submission policies changed?  You can always quickly check the theatre’s website.  I received two submissions at the Playhouse during DLW [Directors Lab West] this past June and I haven’t worked there in over two years.  Another turn off – braggadocio or arrogance in your cover letter.  I hate arrogance (which is different than confidence!)  I like a writer who is being honest but somewhat humble in their cover letter.  Don’t rave about your own materiel.  Feel free to talk about any awards and successes but if you keep telling me how great or funny the play is, you have probably set my expectations too high and it is doomed to not be liked.

CMJ: Does it matter to you if playwrights have a website, Facebook, Twitter presence? How much do you want to know about the playwright themselves if you’re interested in their work?

KK: Website and online presence is great for finding back up material to support a submission (for example – music tracks for a musical that I can go find if I am interested).  This is a much better place for bragging than in your cover letter.  If I have an interest in the submission, I can go to the website to see what else they have written, who else they have worked with, what other theatres are supporting/interested their work, etc.

CMJ: Are there any red flags to submissions, obvious or subtle?

KK: Again, the name – assumptions will catch you up every time.  Also, don’t assume you or your material are so great that I won’t mind you have bent my rules.  They are there for a reason.  I had hundreds of plays waiting to be read and not a lot of time to do it in.  Any excuse you give me not to read yours I will jump on and weed it out.  That includes length of submitted pages, clarity of synopsis, if I say no music or supporting materials that means don’t send me a cd or press clippings.  I feel guilty about throwing away stuff you spent money on and all that paper going to waste and that makes me mad and it won’t win you any points.  Remember, we often look for any excuse not to read something.

CMJ: You’ve worked on many new plays as a Director. Any advice you’d give to playwrights from the Director’s perspective? 

KK: This is a huge question but I will be brief.  Find a way to trust your director.  If you can’t, find a way to communicate that keeps the work progressing, is non-combative and works towards the mutual goal of the best production you can get.  But the best option is to trust your director (this is why it is important you have some say in who directs your shows and why so many directors get hired because the playwright went to bat for them) and communicate thoroughly.  They are your mouthpiece to the rest of the production team.  They will be helping communicate YOUR story to actors, designers, audiences, marketing and press staff, box office ticket sellers, etc.  Make sure you have communicated YOUR story they way you want it told to that director.  That is one of my favorite parts of directing new work – those conversations with the playwright where they guide me in discovering the heart of the material, we mine for gold, etc!


Kappy Kilburn recently served for four years as the Literary Manager and Associate Director of Artistic Development at Pasadena Playhouse where she created and produced their new play development program “Hothouse at the Playhouse.” Under her watch,
Hothouse launched several projects which have gone on to successful runs around the world including Sister Act the Musical (multiple Tony Nominations), Ray Charles Live! (opening on Broadway as Unchain My Heart), Looped (Broadway), Night is a Child (produced as well at Milwaukee Rep), Hollywood Arms (a tribute workshop with Carol Burnett to explore an adaptation into a musical), and Number of People (with Ed Asner.) Through Hothouse, she artistically and dramaturgically aided over 30 new plays and musicals.

Producer: Pal Joey revision workshop for Peter Schneider Productions; Stephen Sondheim’s 75th: The Concert at the Hollywood Bowl; NEA’s Shakespeare in Los Angeles kick at the Mark Taper Forum; All About Gordon Farewell Gala for Gordon Davidson. Kappy was the Special Projects Coordinator for Center Theatre Group’s Founding Artistic Director Gordon Davidson; the Company Manager for The World of Nick Adams celebrity staged reading benefiting Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camps at the Kodak Theatre; the Production Stage Manager for Relentless Theatre Company; Production Coordinator at George Mason University’s Institute of the Arts; and Assistant to the Managing Director at Theatrical
Outfit in Atlanta, Georgia.

Director: Servant of Two Masters (Chapman University), 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Cape Fear Regional Theatre), Scarcity (Need Theatre – LA Times Critics Choice), Painting Churches (Group Rep), Psycho Beach Party (Chapman University), Safe (Circus Theatricals – LA Times Critics Choice), Isn’t It Rich – A Sondheim Celebration (Pasadena Playhouse), Shh! Art!, Work and Hindsight (Hothouse at the Playhouse), ABC’s Diversity Showcase, Three Hotels (Freemont Center Theatre),The Man Who Could See Through Time (Balcony Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse), Romancing Stereotypes (LATC), Fast and Furious at Sacred Fools, multiple AMDA Showcases, Burn This (Corner Playhouse), All My Sons for Directors Lab West. Assistant Director: Mark Taper Forum: Frank Galatti (Homebody/Kabul by Tony Kushner, also at BAM), Gordon Davidson (The Talking Cure by Christopher Hampton), Lisa Petterson (Body of Bourne by John Belluso), Diane Rodriguez (The Lalo Project); Kirk Douglas Theatre: Scott Ellis (The Little Dog Laughed); Ahmanson: Sir Peter Hall (Romeo & Juliet), Lynne Meadow (Tale of the Allergists Wife and National Tour); Kansas City Rep’s Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure as Associate to David Ira Goldstein. She has worked with David Esbjornson on Broadway (Bobbi Boland) and Off Broadway (My Old Lady by Israel Horovitz).

She is a Founder and Co-Producer for Directors Lab West, a spin off of Lincoln Center Theater’s Directors Lab in NY of which she is an alumna. Kappy is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, proud Kappa Kappa Gamma and Associate Member of SDC.

text is King. long live the King.

Sara Israel, September 14, 2010

Pardon me if my thoughts about theater are a bit theoretical right now.  I have just emerged from eight packed days participating in this year’s Directors Lab West.  Lots of panel discussions and talks, which inevitably lead to lots of discourse about “the state of theater”— which of course means lots of hand-wringing and sounding of the Armageddon sirens.

But there was enough hope to go around too, and just as importantly, enough joy.

Throughout the week, we heard from Artistic Directors, designers, performing artists, and choreographers.  Unfortunately, nowhere in the week was there the explicit opportunity to truly discuss how a director collaborates with a writer the way she or he does with all of those other talented and skilled position players.  (Apparently some years there are great playwright panels, just not this year.  Luck of the draw, I suppose.)

Although collaboration with a playwright was never really discussed, the importance of a director’s relationship with the product created by the playwright— a.k.a the text— was always implied.  Through and through.  Every single day.  The text was the leader powerful enough to step aside and let his followers do the talking.  But he was always in the room.

Interestingly— though for us playwrights, not surprisingly— when the Artistic Directors, designers, performing artists, and choreographers glowed about their greatest experiences, it all inevitably boiled down to loving the play itself.  For example, Sound Designer Extraordinaire Cricket Myers declared Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo her favorite design experience not because it provided her with a whole new sound palette (though it did) but rather because, as she put it, “It was the greatest play I’ve ever, ever read.”

The text, you see, is King.

I managed to slip in a text-related question to The Theatre @ Boston Court co-Artistic Directors Jessica Kubzansky and Michael Michetti.  I asked them:  When they read a play, how do they know if it’s right for them?  Where do they feel it?  Michael answered that he feels it in the beating of his heart; Jessica feels it in the wrenching of her gut.  I think those two answers in combination go a long way in explaining their company’s compelling programming year in and year out.

Plenty of the Directors Lab West panelists and fellow attendees perceived themselves as being about something other than text.  They passionately spoke about building a conversation with the audience, about weaving organic performance with other artists.

They might go about it a different way, but each of their approaches boils down to creating meaningful stories with compelling characters, and placing great value on developing an experience that can consistently be translated for the audience.

In other words, they create a text.

Text might not have always gotten its due during my eight days at Directors Lab West, but then again, the text is a benevolent, generous ruler.  Sometimes, like this past week, he sits back and lets his minions have at it.  But eventually, inevitably, he dons his regal robes and steps out onto his balcony, ready to stake his rightful claim.

Text is King.  Long live the King.